Colin Eckford, the subject's principal assessor, is challenging schools in his end of exam report to present students at more appropriate levels and reveals far more details about pass rates than assessors normally do.
Teachers' gloomy and remarkably accurate forecasts were subsequently realised when 26 per cent of candidates received "no award". One in four of all students scored 30 per cent or less.
Figures released by the English panel at the Scottish Qualifications Authority show that 14.8 per cent of candidates - on top of the 26 per cent of no awards - did well enough to gain a compensatory A pass at Intermediate 2, which may well have been the more limited ambition of the 12,000 students who failed. Four out of 10 candidates did not pass.
As The TES Scotland revealed last month, ministers are poised to remove the fallback award at the level below the exam candidates sat but will not act before next year, allowing a repeat of the past two years in which thousands of students have been presented at Higher when they have little hope of success.
Schools say they are under pressure from parents to put them forward and when they know compensatory passes are available for a narrow fail. The principal assessor also notes that "25 per cent of candidates had estimates from centres for grade 6 (the lowest grade of pass)". In other words, half the students were estimated by teachers and lecturers to be at risk of failing.
The assessor pointedly comments that the number of entries for the Higher rose from 28,889 in 2002 to 29,612 in 2003 "despite concerns (expressed last year) that some candidates are being presented at an inappropriate level".
It is understood students who gain top Credit passes at Standard grade continue to do well at Higher but that students fare poorly when they resit the exam or come at it from other routes.
Mr Eckford nevertheless maintains that examiners were "generally satisfied".